- Pierrot lunaire, melodrama for voice & chamber ensemble, Op. 21
- Herzgewächse, song for soprano, celesta, harp, & harmonium, Op. 20
- Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte, for narrator, piano & strings, Op. 41
Arnold Schoenberg created an entirely new method of vocal performance: Sprechgesang, a fusion of singing and speaking partly inspired by cabaret performers. He used sprechgesang in several works, but it was in the 21 surreal poems of "Pierrot lunaire" (1912) that he realized its expressive potential. Uncanny, eerie, even demented -- yet in a performance as outstanding as Christine Schäfer's, often strangely beautiful as well -- Schoenberg's music conjures up a parallel universe of heightened reality and grotesque fantasy. The music is freely atonal but full of musical references that reach from baroque counterpoint to Chopin's waltzes. The ensemble is small but kaleidoscopically wielded; no two songs use identical instrumentation. Fearlessly going to vocal and emotional extremes, Schäfer employs a stunning variety of nuances within the speech-song technique, and the prismatic precision of the musicians of the Ensemble Intercontemperain sets new standards under perfectionist Pierre Boulez's direction. Schäfer also performs -- sings, in this case -- Schoenberg's rarely heard song "Herzgewächse," delicately accompanied by celesta, harp, and harmonium, while David Pittman-Jennings is the stentorian reciter in the "Ode to Napoleon," a sprechgesang work from later in the composer's career.
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